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Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 16:02 GMT
Friends across Nigeria's divide
Christian and Muslim embrace in Kaduna
Mohammed and James embrace in Kaduna
By Barnaby Phillips in Kaduna

The people of the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna are trying to pick up the pieces following last month's horrific outbreak of religious violence.

I used to want to have nothing to do with Muslims, nothing at all, until I met my friend Ashafa

James Wuye, Nigerian Christian
Hundreds of people were killed in fighting between Christians and Muslims which was sparked off by proposals to introduce Sharia, or Islamic Law.

The violence in Kaduna led to reprisal attacks in other cities in Nigeria, putting the country's fragile unity under serious strain. However, some people are doing their best to heal the wounds.

Building bridges

James Wuye grew up on one side of Kaduna's religious divide. He is a militant Christian who had no time for Muslims.

"I used to want to have nothing to do with Muslims, nothing at all, until I met my friend Ashafa," he says.

Kaduna: A city engulfed in violence
Kaduna: A city engulfed in violence
It is a friendship that is barely credible.

After a two week period in which it has been too dangerous to drive across Kaduna, James went to see Mohammed Ashafa.

He was once a radical Muslim, dedicated to the fight against Christianity.

Amidst the ruins of a gutted church, James and Mohammed are trying to pick up the pieces.

Ironically, in their youth they would have been happy to kill each other given Kaduna's history of sectarian violence.

A peaceful path

However, these two men have come to believe in the futility of hatred.

They have set up an organisation dedicated to dialogue across the religious divide.

James and Mohammed survey ruins of a church
James and Mohammed survey ruins of a church
Augustine Bello tried to protect the church from a gang of Muslim youths who set upon him with axes and knives.

Throughout Nigeria's history religious fervour has led people astray. Mohammed can offer no excuses.

"Islam is a religion of peace. This could not be done in the name of Islam," he says.

Perhaps the wounds are still too painful as Kaduna's wave of violence has left fear and distrust in its wake.

However, Nigerians are too practical and anyway too poor to just sit back and bemoan their fate.

Starting over

The market stalls destroyed in the violence are now being hurriedly rebuilt. Nigerians of all creeds are in the same struggle to make ends meet.

Rebuilding Kaduna's central market
Rebuilding Kaduna's central market
The people of Kaduna are rebuilding their lives as fast as they tore them apart.

Just a few days after the central market was burnt to the ground, Muslims and Christians are busy trading with each other.

If Nigeria's diverse peoples can only live in peace, there appears no limit to their potential.

During Friday prayers, many who have lost friends or loved ones in the violence gather at the Ashafa mosque.

Friday prayers for Kaduna's Muslims
Friday prayers for Kaduna's Muslims
Now more than ever, Nigerians are turning to their religious leaders for guidance. Where Mohammed once preached revenge, he preaches reconciliation.

James is welcomed into enemy territory after prayers and meets Mohammed and other Muslim clerics.

Tentatively and slowly, old prejudices are falling away. Some Nigerians fear that religious and ethnic differences will tear this country apart.

Others may reflect that Kaduna's tragedy suggests that unity is the best hope.

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